Camping in Scotland is all about the rugged scenery, avoiding bugs, staying dry, and perhaps most importantly: staying warm. Creating a camping checklist for Scotland is really about anticipating the weather and ultimately deciding on what levels of home comfort you want to bring with you.
We camped in Scotland in May 2019 while on a 10-day Scotland road trip. We did it because we really enjoyed camping in Africa and thought to bring some of the equipment we already had with us so we could save some money on accommodation.
Accommodation in Scotland is not very cheap, but camping can really mitigate that cost. Scotland has very liberal laws about freedom camping – which is free – and a thriving outdoors culture!
Here is what we think are camping essentials for Scotland…
What to Pack for a Camping Trip in Scotland:
Scotland can get wet. In the highlands there are an average of 250 days of the year when it will rain. Of course, not all of Scotland will be the same, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared for a drizzle, even if the weather report says it will be a sunny day.
You can get more information about the average rainfall and sunny day count here.
Again with the waterproofing: this is a travel essential for camping in Scotland! Make sure you get yourself waterproof boots. You’ll likely walk though marshy grass to go take a picture of a waterfall. You’ll get caught in rain. You’ll step in puddles, it’s a fact of life in Scotland!
Bring a pair of boots that are broken in and that you can walk around in easily. This will make your trip so much more comfortable.
I like wearing a hat I can pull my hair through to help keep it out of my face as I hike. Hats are also great for sun and rain protection while out and about.
This is optional. Jackson didn’t bring any, but I did because I get really cold easily. I love a good pair of wool gloves to keep my hands warm and I was really glad to have a pair! Spring is a beautiful time of year in the Highlands, but it still gets nippy!
A Backpack and Day Pack and a Shopping bag
A good, sturdy backpack will make carrying all of the camping essentials for Scotland so much easier!
Day packs are great for shorter hikes, walks in the city and running errands. Get a good, comfy bag that you can throw a water bottle in and leave the heavy stuff behind.
Small, reusable shopping bags are not only a sustainable way of shopping, but can be so handy for carrying and organizing stuff in your camp and in the car.
Camping in Scotland isn’t fun if you don’t have a tent! Get something that is sturdy enough to stand up against wind. When we camped in Isle of Skye, we were on a lovely hill overlooking a loch, the problem was it got really windy some nights!
Like I mentioned before: drizzle and rain are common in certain parts of Scotland, so make sure your equipment is waterproof!
We got pretty screwed on this one. We went and bought really lightweight sleeping bags that compact really small and don’t weigh very much. Weren’t we clever? …or so we thought.
Look: Scotland can get chilly at night, even in the summer. Buying yourself a feather sleeping bag that compresses down is cool and all, but when your body is pressing up against the sides of the bag it won’t keep you very warm.
We’d recommend getting a sleeping bag that will keep you warm, something with some stuffing that will cover your butt when you curl up. You might also want a blanket, just in case.
When we were camping in Scotland the temperatures fell to 2C (35F) at night and it got cold when the wind blew. Even if you are freedom camping and you’re carrying everything with you in a backpack, you won’t be sorry to have an extra blanket and a warm sleeping bag.
Essential! This will keep you off the chilly ground as you sleep (good for insulation!) and will make your night that much more comfortable. You can get any number of sleeping mats on the internet. We got inflatable ones that packed down pretty small and were quite comfortable with them.
Another home comfort in your tent! A travel pillow will go a long way toward keeping your head off the chilly earth, making your night more bearable, and keeping you head warm while you sleep.
Travel pillows can pack down really small and come in a variety of styles. We got chunky foam ones, but you can also buy inflatable.
A Toilet Trowel (if freedom camping)
This is a small shovel you can take with you to do your “doo” diligence in the wild. This is not only a more sanitary way of using the great outdoors as your personal pooper, but it’s the right thing to do to cover your solids and leave the place looking nice.
If you are staying in a campsite, you don’t need this. Campsites will have bathrooms!
We learned our lesson in Africa: bring some chairs to sit on. A camping stool will go a long way to making sure you are more comfortable as you sit around a fire, sip a whiskey while watching the sun set or just need a place to put your hiking boots on.
We got a good set of bare-bones, lightweight stools to take with us. You can choose whatever stool/chair you feel most comfortable in, just remember you’ll need to carry it!
When we went, it was just the two of us so we didn’t bother getting an entire kitchen cooking set. Really, all we needed was:
- a pot
- a pan
- utensils (we used these to cook with – a fork and spoon were all we needed, really)
- a sharp cutting knife
- a small cutting board/prep surface
- a dish rag
I don’t know what level of comfort you want when on your camping trip in Scotland, but we opted for the “less is more” category and were perfectly fine with our choice.
In campsites, they will likely provide you with a sink to wash in and maybe some soap. If you are freedom camping, you’ll get nothing unless you camp near a lake or stream.
If you freedom camp, we recommend taking a small bucket or bin to collect water in to do your washing up. Only use soap when absolutely necessary, and keep any waste water away from natural water sources.
Salt, Pepper and Oil
If you plan to cook, there are some absolute essentials and salt, pepper and oil are them. When we camped, we also bought a couple cloves of garlic as well as some shallots so that we had some flavor staples we could take with us that wouldn’t go bad if not refrigerated.
The great thing about oil (and we always go for olive oil) is you can drizzle it on bread for a quick snack.
Some people swear by Swiss army knives and all-purpose outdoor handyman tools. That’s great; go for it if you’re into that. We just got a cheap, lightweight knife, fork and spoon set which pretty much covered our bases.
On this trip, we brought two tin coffee cups and two bowls. We didn’t bother with plates. This was enough.
This is so important! Get yourself a small, portable bottle top stove that you can attach to a propane canister and you should be set. The propane canister was easy to carry and heated our pot up marvelously well. We made tea and soup and pasta on it easily without having to haul around too much equipment.
Don’t forget matches! You might also want a small fire-starter, if you want to light a campfire. Do be sure to familiarize yourself with the fire safety regulations of the area you are in.
Having a portable battery is an essential camping tool for Scotland. This will give you the ability to charge any of your electronics while you are freedom camping or in a campsite without outlets. It’s good to have as a backup. The lamp we bring also has the ability to charge devices via a USB port.
An LED light
We bring a big LED light with us when we go camping. This is a really helpful tool for nights in the tent if you want to get some reading done before bed.
You can’t forget the essential toiletries when camping! This includes:
- 2-in-1 Shampoo/conditioner (or your all purpose camping soap)
- a Towel
We go bare minimum when we camp so we don’t bother with body soap (use the 2-in-1!). There are plenty of options for towels, we’ve used linen and cotton alike; fancy “quick-drying” and not-so-fancy towels – take whatever your comfortable with carrying.
Midges in Scotland can be no joke. They are tiny, annoying flies that can bite and fly right into your eyeball. Scotland also has ticks and mosquitoes in the summer. Protect yourself and get a good insect repellent to wear on a hike.
Sunscreen is so important. Always have it with you to reapply. It’s just good sense.
When is the Best Time to go Camping in Scotland?
Weather in Scotland can be very changeable and can cycle through several seasons in a day! This can be a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, a cloud burst might not last too long, on the other: you could have a sunny day interrupted by cold wind and rain.
It’s always a good idea to pack and prepare for the worst, especially when freedom camping.
We were there in May, which we couldn’t recommend more. The temperature ranged from 2C (35F) at night to 15C (60F) during the day. The midges hadn’t come out yet so we avoided the worst of the bug season and because May is still shoulder season in Scotland, the tourist crowds were not at their biggest yet.
Most people would recommend Spring as a great time to camp in Scotland. This means from mid-April to early June. We wholeheartedly agree with this: it’s a great time of year. Spring means long days, warmth, and not too many bugs: all a win.
Summer in Scotland will certainly have the warmest weather. This means more comfortable temperatures at night! Summer temperatures can go up to 19C (70F) during the day and the days last long!
The months of June-early September will see warmer temperatures, but also a lot more bugs! Midges come out around mid-June and will last all summer. The crowds are also at their peak, so pricing generally goes up and campsites can sellout! Be sure to book in advance if you want to stay at a campsite.
September is Scotland’s wettest month which can be miserable for some people. Temperatures drop in September – November getting quite chilly at night.
Fall foliage is at its peak in October and the bugs go away for the most part, making camping and hiking in October quite lovely. The crowds disperse a lot as the year goes back into shoulder season and prices drop and availability increases.
Unless you are really adventurous, I wouldn’t recommend camping in winter. Temperatures can hover around freezing and get really cold at night.
From December to early April Scotland can get pretty cold. That said, you can probably get the best pricing for accommodation and have far fewer tourist numbers to deal with. Just be sure to pack warmly!
To Find a Campsite or to Freedom Camp?
Many people camp in Scotland on a shoe-string budget and can get away with that very easily. Freedom camping means you pay nothing to pitch your tent and if you buy all your food at a grocery store you can go a long way on not much money.
To be freedom camping means to be comfortable without any amenities. There are no wild showers, no sinks, no toilets, and no electricity. But: it’s free.
The other benefit to freedom camping is that you can do it all over the place. There are some rules, of course, but you’ll likely not have any neighbors and a lot of privacy and a chance to camp somewhere stunningly beautiful.
We opted to stay in campsites. Jackson would have been happy to freedom camp but I wanted a warm shower and toilet.
Campsites will cost anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds per person, per night. Prices are also likely to fluctuate depending on the time of year.
What I liked about campsites was that they had spots cleared for your tent, trimmed grass, and some of them had a mat to pitch your tent on. For a couple extra dollars, you can even buy firewood.
Of course, if you stay in a campsite, you have neighbors. Sometimes the neighbors are loud. It’s annoying.
I also liked that in a campsite, we could leave our tent and stuff pitched and go off hiking and then come back and everything was as we left it. In campsites in Scotland, you’ll have staff and people walking all over the show making sure no one is camping illegally and that no one is stealing your stuff.
How Much Should I Spend on the Camping list for Scotland?
This depends on how much money you’ve got, how much you’re willing to carry and what you plan to do.
We’ve spent about $1,000 USD on all of our equipment. This includes pretty much everything you see above for 2 people.
Although $1,000 looks like a lot of money, you have to consider that you can reuse it!
Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes getting the most state-of-the-art sleeping bag is not such a great idea. You can get a lot of the stuff on the camping checklist for Scotland second-hand if you look in the right places.
It’s important to consider your network. Maybe you know someone with sleeping bags and a tent? You can always borrow that rather than buy everything for a week-long trip.
There are companies that will rent gear, although we found that renting came to be almost the same price as buying. The benefits of renting, however, is that once you are finished with your camping trip in Scotland, you can leave all the stuff behind and don’t have to worry about cleaning it…
***If you buy equipment before coming to the UK, just know that you might need to pay carry-on/checking fees for baggage depending on your airline (we had to cough up about $60 USD each way to bring our camping gear… yowza).
Feel we left something out of the Scotland camping checklist?
Let us know in the comments!